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a long-haired kitten
The word pussy refers to cats, weakness or cowardice, or female genitalia, in addition to other meanings.

Pussy is a noun, an adjective, and in rare uses a verb in the English language. It has several meanings, including use as slang, as euphemism, and as vulgarity. Common meanings of the noun include "cat", as well as "coward or weakling", and "the human vulva or vagina", or as a synecdoche, "sexual intercourse with a woman".[1] Because of its multiple senses including both innocent and vulgar connotations, "pussy" is often the subject of double entendre.

The etymology of the word is not entirely clear. Several different senses of the word have different histories or origins.[1][2][3]

Contents

Etymology

 
An example of double entendre in street art: a graffiti mural of a woman caressing a pussycat between her legs.

The noun pussy meaning "cat" comes from the Modern English word puss, a conventional name or term of address for a pet cat.[4] The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that cognates are common to several Germanic languages, including Dutch poes and Middle Low German pūse, which are also used to call a cat. The word puss is attested in English as early as 1533. Earlier etymology is uncertain, but similar words exist in other European languages, including Lithuanian puižė and Irish puisín, both traditional calls to attract a cat.[4]

The words puss and derived forms pussy and pusscat were extended to refer to girls or women by the seventeenth century.[1][4] This sense of pussy was used to refer specifically to genitalia by the eighteenth century, and from there further extended to refer to sexual intercourse involving a woman by the twentieth century.[1]

Noah Webster, in his original 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, defined pussy as: "inflated, swelled; hence, fat, short and thick; and as persons of this make labor in respiration, the word is used for short breathed". He gave pursy as a "corrupt orthography" or misspelling of pussy.[5] In 1913, however, Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary reversed the original, suggesting that pussy was a "colloquial or low" variant of pursy. That word, in turn, was defined as "fat and short-breathed", with etymology from Old French pousser "to push".[6]

The Webster's Third International Dictionary points out similarities between pussy in the sense of "vulva" and Low German or Scandinavian words meaning "pocket" or "purse", including Old Norse pūss and Old English pusa.[7]

The medieval French word pucelle, meaning "maiden" or "virgin", is not related to the English word. It is attested in Old French from the ninth century, and likely derives from Latin. The precise Latin source is disputed, with either puella "girl" or pulla "pullet, young female chicken" suggested as earlier sources.[8]

As a homograph, pussy also has the meaning "containing pus";[3] with this meaning, the word is pronounced /ˈpʌsi/, while the other forms are all pronounced /ˈpʊsi/. Another adjective is the rare or obsolete Northern English dialect form pursy meaning "fat" or "short-winded".[2]

Meanings of the verb relate to the common noun senses, including "to act like a cat", "to act like a coward", or "to have sex with a woman".[9] Adjective meanings are related to the noun.

Uses

Cat and similar

 
The word pussy refers to cats as well as other animals, including rabbits and hares.
 
Male catkins from a pussy willow

Both in English and in German puss was used as a "call-name" for cats, but in English pussy was used as a synonym for the word cat in other uses as well. In addition to cats, the word was also used for rabbits and hares as well as a humorous name for tigers. In the 19th century, the meaning was extended to anything soft and furry. Pussy willow, for example, is a name applied to various species in the genus Salix with furry catkins. In thieves' cant the word pussy means a "fur coat".[1]

The Oxford English Dictionary gives as the first meaning of the noun: "Chiefly colloq[uial]. A girl or woman exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat, esp[ecially] sweetness or amiability. Freq[uently] used as a pet name or as a term of endearment." The examples it cites from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries are not sexual. Another example, not cited by the OED, is one of the main characters of E. Nesbit's Five Children and It - Jane, nicknamed Pussy by her siblings.

The verb pussyfoot, meaning to walk softly or to speak in an evasive or cautious manner, may come from the adjective pussy-footed "having a cat-like foot", or directly from the noun pussyfoot. This word, first attested in the late nineteenth century, is related to both the "cat" and the "woman" meanings of pussy.[10]

Female genitalia

 
Woman wearing a "pussyhat"

In contemporary English, use of the word pussy to refer to women themselves is considered derogatory and demeaning, treating people as sexual objects.[11] As a reference to genitals or to sexual intercourse, the word is considered vulgar slang. Studies find the word used more commonly in conversations among men than in groups of women or mixed-gender groups, though subjects report using pussy more often than other slang terms for female genitals.[12] There are women seeking to reclaim the word[13] to symbolise sexual pleasure,[14] power,[15] and trust in their bodies (e.g. around childbirth).[16]

Donald Trump's use of the word to describe his interactions with women ("grab them by the pussy", known as the Access Hollywood tape) provoked strong reactions by media figures and politicians across the political spectrum; an image of a snarling cat with the slogan "pussy grabs back" became a "rallying cry for female rage against Trump".[17] Pink "pussyhats" (knitted caps with cat-like ears) were a notable feature of the worldwide protests held the day after Trump's inauguration as President of the United States.[18] The name attempts to reclaim the derogatory term[19][20] and was never intended to be an anatomical representation.[21]

Words referring to cats are used as vulgar slang for female genitals in some other European languages as well. Examples include German Muschi (literally "house cat"),[22] French chatte ("female cat", also used to refer to sexual intercourse),[23] and Dutch poes ("puss").[4] The Portuguese term rata (literally "female rat")[24] and Norwegian mus ("mouse")[25] are also animal terms used as vulgar slang for women's genitals.

Weakness

The word pussy is also used in a derogatory sense to mean cowardly, weak, or easily fatigued. The Collins Dictionary says: "(taboo, slang, mainly US) an ineffectual or timid person."[26] It may refer to a male who is not considered sufficiently masculine, as in: "The coach calls us pussies."[27]

Men who are dominated by women (particularly by their partners or spouses and at one time referred to as 'hen-pecked', see pecking order) can be referred to as pussy-whipped (or simply whipped in slightly more polite society or media).[citation needed] This may be used simply to denigrate a man who is contented in a relationship. The hyphenated phrase is parsed as "whipped by pussy", a manipulative relationship dynamic wherein a female deliberately or subconsciously withholds sexual intercourse to coerce the male into surrendering power in other aspects of the relationship. The male's weakness is his desire for access to female genitalia, and his willingness to weaken his position in the relationship to obtain that access, combining two uses of the word pussy.[citation needed]

Word-play between meanings

 
The Barrison Sisters lift their dresses to show a live kitten, a double entendre of "pussy".

Pussy is one of a large number of English words that has both erotic and non-erotic meanings. Such double entendres have long been used in the creation of sexual humor.[28] This double meaning of "pussy" has been used for over a hundred years by performers, including the late-19th-century vaudeville act the Barrison Sisters, who performed the notorious routine "Do You Want To See My Pussy?" in which they raised their skirts to reveal live kittens.[29]

In the British comedy Are You Being Served? the character Mrs. Slocombe often expressed concern for the welfare of her pussy. The double entendre made every reference to her cat seem to be a salacious and therefore humorous reference to her vulva.[30]

In the 2002 film 8 Mile a rapper insults his rivals by including the line, "How can six dicks be pussies?" The line relies on double meanings of both dick (either "contemptible person" or "male genitalia") and pussy ("weak" or "female genitalia"). Such word play presents a challenge for translators of the film.[31]

Pussy Riot is a Russian radical feminist punk rock collective that stages illegal events in Moscow protesting President Vladimir Putin and the status of women in Russian society. Band member "Kot" says that she knows how the word is used in English, and that it is also used in Russian as term of endearment for little girls. These various meanings create a tension with the word "riot", which the group likes.[32]

In 2017 Planned Parenthood released a series of short videos on YouTube about female sexual health, with the overall title "How to take care of your pussy". Instead of the word "pussy" being shown or spoken, a cat appears instead. The visuals consist mainly of cats, playing on the popularity of cat videos, with a voiceover by Sasheer Zamata. Refinery29 called it "a pretty genius metaphor"[33] and Metro said: "If there are two things left in this world that are inherently wonderful, it’s cats and vaginas. Don’t argue. It’s true.[...] It makes sense, then, that Planned Parenthood has decided to combine the two to create a truly splendid video series."[34] The series has been shortlisted for a Shorty Award.[35]

See also

  • Cunt, another old vulgarism for the vulva

References

  1. ^ a b c d e "pussy, n. and adj.2". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  2. ^ a b "pussy, adj.1". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  3. ^ a b "pussy, adj.3". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d "puss, n.1". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  5. ^ Webster, Noah (1828). An American Dictionary of the English Language. New York: S. Converse. OCLC 468942038.
  6. ^ Webster, Noah; Porter, Noah (1913). Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam. pp. 1166–1167. OCLC 504785161.
  7. ^ Gove, Phillip (1961). Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam. ISBN 978-0-8777-9302-1.
  8. ^ "pucelle, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  9. ^ "pussy, v.". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  10. ^ "pussyfoot, v.". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
  11. ^ James, Deborah (1998). "Gender-linked derogatory terms and their use by women and men". American Speech. 73 (4): 399–420. doi:10.2307/455584.
  12. ^ Simkins, Lawrence; Rinck, Christine (1982). "Male and female sexual vocabulary in different interpersonal contexts". Journal of Sex Research. 18 (2): 160–172. doi:10.1080/00224498209551146.
  13. ^ Thomashauer, Regena. Pussy: A Reclamation. ISBN 9781781806364. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Come to Mama". NYMag.com. Retrieved 23 April 2018. Mama Gena explains that using the word vagina is not unlike calling your penis your prostate. "When women use the word pussy, it sets them free. They flush, they get all crazy. They feel all wild. It snaps a woman into her sassiness."
  15. ^ "The young women on a mission to reclaim the word 'pussy'". BBC Three. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2018. It has a kind of a universally pleasing and funny tonality. Plus, 'pussy' is a euphemism which mirrors the visually euphemistic images that we choose. We all know the internet was invented for cats.
  16. ^ Burfoot, Annette (1991). "Midwifery: An Appropriate(d) Symbol of Women's Reproductive Rights?" (PDF). Issues in Reproductive and Genetic Engineering. 4 (2): 119–127. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  17. ^ Nicole Puglise, 'Pussy grabs back' becomes rallying cry for female rage against Trump, The Guardian (October 10, 2016).
  18. ^ Kurtzleben, Danielle (January 21, 2017). "With 'Pussyhats,' Liberals Get Their Own Version Of The Red Trucker Hat". NPR.org. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
  19. ^ Keating, Fiona (January 14, 2017). "Pink 'pussyhats' will be making statement at the Women's March on Washington". International Business Times UK. Archived from the original on January 15, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  20. ^ "'Pussyhat' knitters join long tradition of crafty activism" Archived January 21, 2017, at the Wayback Machine. BBC News. January 19, 2017.
  21. ^ Jordan Shamus, Kristen (January 10, 2018). "Pink pussyhats: Why some activists are ditching them". KSDK.com. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  22. ^ O. Thyen; M. Clark; W. Scholze-Stubenrecht; J.B. Sykes, eds. (1999). The Oxford-Duden German Dictionary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860248-4.
  23. ^ Rey, Alain (2000). Le Nouveau Petit Robert Dictionnaire De La Langue Francais (in French). ISBN 978-2-85036-668-0.
  24. ^ Allen, Maria F. (2011). The Routledge Portuguese Bilingual Dictionary. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-99725-9.
  25. ^ Kirkeby, Willy (1989). English–Norwegian Dictionary. Bergen: Norwegian University Press. ISBN 978-8200182931.
  26. ^ online
  27. ^ Jim McKay; Michael A. Messner; Donald Sabo (2000). Masculinities, Gender Relations, and Sport. SAGE. p. 39.
  28. ^ Lefcourt, Herbert; Sordoni, Carl; Sordoni, Carol (1974). "Locus of control and the expression of humor". Journal of Personality. 42 (1): 130–143. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.ep8969660.
  29. ^ Silverton, Peter (2011). Filthy English: The How, Why, When And What Of Everyday Swearing. Granta Publications. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-84627-452-7.
  30. ^ Rosewarne, Lauren (2013). American Taboo: The Forbidden Words, Unspoken Rules, and Secret Morality of Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. pp. 81–82. ISBN 978-0-313-39934-3.
  31. ^ Taivalkoski-Shilov, Kristiina (2008). "Subtitling 8 Mile in three languages: Translation problems and translator licence". Target: International Journal of Translation Studies. 20 (2): 248–274. doi:10.1075/target.20.2.04tai.
  32. ^ Flintoff, Corey. "In Russia, Punk-Rock Riot Girls Rage Against Putin". nrp.org. NPR. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  33. ^ BRABAW, KASANDRA (4 October 2017). "The Difference Between Your Vagina & Vulva — As Told By Cats". Refinery 29. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  34. ^ Scott, Ellen (5 October 2017). "Planned Parenthood's new campaign uses cats to teach us all about vaginas". Metro. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  35. ^ "Taking Care of Your "Pussy" Videos - The Shorty Awards". shortyawards.com. Retrieved 27 March 2018.

External links